Piotr Uklanski, an accomplished conceptual artist, was born in 1968 in Warsaw, Poland, and graduated from Warsaw's Academy of Fine Arts. Since 1991 he has been living and working in New York and Warsaw, exhibiting his work in such venues around the world as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Venice Biennale.
In his photographic works, collages, sculptures, installations, video, and performances, Piotr Uklanski, a photographer by training, uses stereotypical motifs and strategies from pop culture, art, and cinema to address issues of cultural identity and authenticity.
Uklanski has a reputation for a certain insolence in the way he plays with audience expectations, the way he not only uses strategies of self-promotion and marketing but also draws on them for fundamental aspects of his conceptual work, and the way he co-opts references. He plays an ironic, critical game with the seductive charm of pop-culture stereotypes and visual clichés. As the material for his works he takes degraded areas of pop-culture, exploiting their unquestionable magic. He starts with pictures that are already bankrupt, hackneyed, and hollow, and proceeds to destroy them. He recycles visuals, concepts, and clichés and gives them a new presence, both crass and seductive, precisely by questioning the politics of different visual worlds. But it would be wrong to describe his approach as either critical or affirmative. His works tell a lot about a spontaneous joy in beauty, but also about the feelings of guilt that accompany the experience of it.
In 1999 Uklanski, invited by the Foksal Gallery Foundation, realized a mosaic of porcelanite plates and industrial debris from local factories on a column at the entrance to a famous department store from the 1950's in Warsaw's center. His inspiration had been the kitschy decoration of provincial architecture in Poland's countryside. He employed the method in a different social and esthetic context, changing the scale of the realization into a monumental one, and low culture into high culture.
Uklanski's most famous work, Nazis, shown in a solo exhibition at the Zacheta National Art Gallery in Warsaw in 2000, caused a scandal, with the destruction of some works and the closing down of the show. This morally disturbing photographic installation (and later a book) depicts glamorous male movie stars in Nazi costume. Using the medium most typical of mass culture, the artist shows film images of the "bad German" so present in common memory. 164 photographs show handsome, elegant men, macho stars seducing the viewer with their attractive image, and thus defacing the truth about Nazism. Uklanski says: "A portrait of a Nazi in mass culture is the most expressive example
of a distortion of the truth about history, about people. It is for me all the more important because for many people it is the main source of information about those times - for many, the only source." The work was later presented in "Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art" at The Jewish Museum in New York (2002).
Uklanski presents himself as a star, as a bad boy of the art world. His first feature film, Summer Love (2006), a tragicomic Western, whose most prominent actor, Val Kilmer in the role of a corpse, is not given a single line, was launched, naturally, as the "first" Polish Western. Uklanski's girlfriend Alison Gingeras, whose bare buttocks he published as a double page ad in Artforum as Untitled (Ginger Ass) (2003), is chief curator to the collector François Pinault. The x-ray image of a skull in swirling psychedelic colors does not show just any old skull, but that of this major collector. Uklanski is concerned, however, not with developing his own myth but with analyzing its mechanisms. Within the theater of his work, he likes to take on multiple roles, wanting to be "a modernist, a post-minimalist, a Pop-conceptualist, a photographer, a dilettante, a painter's muse, a political artist like Boltanski and a filmmaker like Polanski." (Flash Art, #236, May 2004).
His solo exhibitions include those at Kunsthalle, Basel, Switzerland (2004); Migros Museum, Zurich, Switzerland (2001); Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, Poland; Kunstwerke, Berlin, Germany; Museum of Modern Art, New York (2000); Museum fuer Gegenwartskunst, Zurich, Switzerland (1999).
Group exhibitions include those at: Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, curated by Francesco Bonami (2005); Neues Museum, Bremen, Germany; Sao Paolo Biennale, Sao Paolo, Brazil (2004); 50th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy (2003); "Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art" at The Jewish Museum, New York (2002); Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City, Mexico; "The Americans New Art" at the Barbican Gallery, London, UK; Miami Art Museum, Miami; The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto; National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, Korea (2001); Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; PS1, Long Island City, NY (2000); Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Baden-Baden, Germany (1999); Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany; "Manifesta II", Luxemborg (1998).
His works can be found in collections of Tate Modern, Jewish Museum New York, among the others, and several private collections.